‘Us farming women make good wives,” so runs the old maxim, “no matter what happens, we’ve always seen worse.” Tannwen Mount-Washburn would be the last person to label her life as one of agricultural drudgery, yet by any standards, her days are marked by a ceaseless variety of activity and challenge.
“I have an office that I venture forth from about 20 times a day,” she explains. “These trips are to our farm’s orchard, bakery, winery, store, or our many classes — and yes, to work the field. Frankly, a cubicle would kill me.”
As heiress apparent to Lawrenceville’s Terhune Orchards’ 200 acres and 35 crop varieties, Mount keeps that delicate balance of CEO’s oversight and the farmer’s personal involvement. And it is a venture she’s been literally born into.
Gary and Pam Mount purchased and moved into the original 55 acres of Terhune Orchards in 1975, when daughter Tannwen was on the way. Recently returned from an exhilarating three-year agricultural Peace Corps project, newlyweds Gary and Pam sought to bring back to Pam’s native Princeton the sense of farm community they had enjoyed. Thus Tannwen and her elder sister Reuwai were the first beneficiaries of the Mounts’ attempted farmutopia. “We had chores and freedom to explore. We learned how to care for and take responsibility,” recalls Tannwen.
After graduating from the Lawrenceville School, Mount moved a short distance down the street to attend her father’s alma mater — Princeton University — where she lived on campus. Majoring in anthropology she became intrigued with how cultures might effectively form themselves into beneficial communities.
This led her to study the Navajo tribes. “You can see how the creation of a hub provides so much spiral of benefit for the individuals involved,” says Mount. Upon earning her degree in 1998, Mount departed for what she terms her “Californian Adventures.”
Finding a nest in San Francisco, Mount took up the job of running the alumni and reunion events for the Haas School of Business at Berkeley. While in the Sunshine State, she fell into the habit of winery touring. “I saw how wineries out in California and up in Oregon were being turned into destinations — places for full-day outings. This hadn’t quite happened in New Jersey yet, but it seemed like an something we could really adopt.”
After six years, wild oats well-sown, Mount felt the call of the family farm. “My sister was giving birth, giving me the opportunity to be an auntie, and the family had just bought 67 more acres, and I wanted to take part in developing it.” Packing up her two cats and scant possessions into her Honda Civic, she and father Gary took the road trip from ‘Frisco to back home.
One of Mount’s first changes was the establishment of the Terhune Vineyard and Winery. It was a natural. Terhune Orchards already had worked out the agri-tourism and retail embellishments of farming. The idea of adding on a public wine processing and a tasting room to a vineyard seemed perfectly in keeping with the Gary and Pam Mount’s style of farming.
Thus in 2005, the Mount family planted four-and-a-half acres with 12 varieties of vines, mostly Cabernet, Chambourcin, and Vidal. Within three years Mount oversaw the pressing of their first crop. One of only three female winemakers in the Garden State, she remains ever willing to experiment and blend.
In addition to the straight Chambourcin, Chardonnay, and award-winning Vidal Blanc varietals, Terhune also takes full advantage of its other crops. Its Apple Wine, Harvest Blues (blueberry and apple), and Just Peachy (apple and peach) are all pressed from Terhune orchard fruits.
“This year we’re planting another three-and-a-half acres,” says Mount. “We want to get a little further into Cabernet Franc, and we want to grow our own Muscat for our Cold Soil White and Front Porch Breeze blends.”
Mount’s grapes have proved an excellent financial addition to the central Jersey retail farm. New Jerseyans rank nationally as the number one imbibers of wine, and as any Garden State vintner can tell you, growers get more dollars per acre with grapes than almost any other crop. “The only thing that does better per acre for us,” says Mount, “is our cherries.”
All of Terhune Orchards’ output is sold directly at its own farm stores, pick-your-own stands, and two tailgate markets in which they participate. This brings Mount an entirely different set of oversight challenges than the straight-to-market farm.
“People buying food want the one-stop-shop experience, and they want it all year ‘round,” notes Mount. She points to the colder clay and loam soil from which Terhune Orchards’ street takes its name. This composite naturally holds off frost and actually benefits the farm with a longer season, and a greater crop variety.
To capture all corners of the farm-fresh shopping cart, Terhune has expanded from a simple farm store to include a greenhouse, bakery, pick-your-own fields, and of course, the winery and tasting room. Like any good business, the farm maintains a constant query of customer demand. Raspberries were one of the more recent additions which came after many of the loyal clientele began asking for them.
“What it all means,” says Mount, “is that you’ve got to be always on the lookout. You’ve got to listen to your people and let them go with new ideas. Terhune’s 22 year-round staff swells to 50 during the pruning and picking months. With 35 crops, a variety of livestock, and an amazing array of public educational programs, none of Terhune’s workers gets caught in an unvarying job.
It remains a sad legacy of our modern, mechanized life that most people never see, nor barely know the place their own food is grown or raised. This is one misfortune that will not occur to the Mount family. Shortly after marrying Jim Washburn, who teaches American History in Montgomery schools, Mount gave birth to son Becket. When not in pre-school, the lad, as do sister Reuwai’s three daughters, wanders among the goats, stables, chickens, and variety of fields and orchards.
Does being the heir-apparent to a family-owned business with so many different aspects and so much physical labor grind Mount down? “If anything, it’s the opposite,” she insists. “The variety of challenges and the physical exercise keeps a person young. And of course, there’s eating all that good food.”
Terhune Orchards, 330 Cold Soil Road, Princeton 08540; 609-924-2310; fax, 609-924-8569. Pam, Gary, and Tannwen Mount, owners. www.terhuneorchards.com